The Vegetarian

Title: The Vegetarian

Author: Han Kang

Summary: Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker, she is a dutiful wife. Their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, commits a shocking act of subversion: she refuses to eat meat. Thus begins a disturbing and thrilling psychological drama about taboo, desire, rebellion and fantasy.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: It was the title that drew me to this book. I’ve been vegetarian for about 15 years, vegan for the last 2, so a book called The Vegetarian that was getting people talking and was proving popular remained on my radar long enough to peak my interest.

The book is about a woman–Yeong-hye–but told in three acts from the point of view of three other people. The first part is from the point of view of her husband, and details the point at which she stopped eating meat and the immediate aftermath of this. I found this part to be the most interesting, honestly. Yeong-hye’s husband is a selfish, abusive piece of shit, but he is also the closest person to her. He witnesses her daily routines, her unique quirks, and the most subtle changes in her as they happen. He is also the most insecure of the three narrators, and is therefore, i think, the most observant of the people around him–Yeong-hye, her family, and his own colleagues.

The second part of the story is told from the point of view of Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law. He is just as selfish and abusive as her husband, but i think in a much, much more self-centred way. He sees all his actions as necessary in order to create his work, which is the only thing driving him. He doesn’t have the insecurities Yeong-hye’s husband has, and although is aware of other people’s feeling and expectations, doesn’t truly care about them. This leaves him more free to do and take as he pleases, and makes him much more dangerous.

The third part of the book is told from In-hye’s point of view. She is Yeong-hye’s sister, and the wife of the brother-in-law. This part was my second favourite. In-hye is a more sympathetic character. Growing up with Yeong-hye she has similar experiences in life and cares very deeply for her sister. She’s the only one left supporting Yeong-hye, and is starting to really understand what Yeong-hye has been going through. It’s the concluding part of the story, where threads come together and questions are answered (or left intentionally unanswered). While it wasn’t as plot-driven as the other parts of the book, it was the most analytical, and interesting in a unique way.

There is a lot left open to interpretation in this book. Character’s motivations–Why did Yeong-hye stop eating meat, stop eating, want to become one with nature? Why was her brother-in-law so inspired by and obsessed with the Mongolian mark? Why did In-hye carry so much guilt and understanding for what her sister was experiencing? Actual facts–What exactly did Yeong-hye dream? Was Yeong-hye as mentally unwell as people assumed? Did In-hye hold as much of the thread on her own sanity as she thinks she did? And general meanings–Were Yeong-hye’s actions merely a way for her to take control of her own life and make her own choices? Was the brother-in-law a sexual deviant or a misunderstood artist? Did In-hye ultimately understand her sister’s plight, or was she simply projecting her own?

This book is fascinating in a lot of ways, but almost unreachable or inexplicably distant in others. I feel that although this book didn’t make a huge impact on me initially, it’s definitely left me with many questions and may be a story that stays with me for a while, making me think and consider things in new ways. I am definitely interested in reading more of Kang’s work.




Book Review: Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix 4/5 StarsTitle: Horrorstör

Author: Grady Hendrix, Michael Rogalski (Illustrator)

Summary: Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.

To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

A traditional haunted house story in a thoroughly contemporary setting, Horrorstör comes packaged in the form of a glossy mail order catalog, complete with product illustrations, a home delivery order form, and a map of Orsk’s labyrinthine showroom.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This book caught my eye immediately when i first came across it. A novel idea, and the cover and design were brilliantly done. I knew I wanted to read it. But more than that, I wanted to buy a copy for my sister–she’s in Ikea as often as her credit card allows her to be. Buying a copy for her meant i could borrow it, so it was a win-win.

Although i’m a big fan of the horror genre, i really didn’t expect this book to be scary or creepy at all. I expected humour and a goofy, slapstick kind of horror. I was kind of right, but also so, so wrong.

Hendrix wastes no time in getting the story going, with the whole thing taking place over just 24 hours. The first third of the book is pretty light reading, with some odd things going on and the main characters seeming fairly two dimensional. It was good and kept my interest, but wasn’t outstanding.

The last two thirds of the book were brilliant. At a particular point the horror aspect stopped being just weird and quirky stuff in a furniture superstore and actually began getting scary. Genuinely scary. So much so that one night i had to stop reading early and scroll through instagram and pinterest for a while before i went to sleep. I loved it.

Although the creep factor got pretty high, the humour didn’t suffer for it. My favourite has to be the furniture names, and a chair called a arsle had me grinning for a while. The book walks a fine line between genuine horror and poking fun at horror clichés, and it walks it perfectly. It allows the fun poking to compliment the contemporary setting.

If you’re paying enough attention there’s a lot of commentary on consumerism, retail work, and the soul-sucking nature of it all. But never so much that it bogs down the book, nor make too much light of it.

The characters follow form. They are an interesting two-dimensional, never quite reaching three, but i think that fits with the overall vibe of the book. Our main character Amy was annoyingly likable, and i was rooting for her as soon as shit starts to get real. She becomes a worthy hero of the story… and the wardrobe scene, while predictable, was an excellent example of the horror/humour line and is definitely my favourite part of the entire book.

If you couldn’t tell already, i loved it. I can already see this being a strong contender for the book i most urge people to read this year. If i had the money i’d buy a load of copies and hide them amongst Ikea’s avalanche of catalogues!

The Girl on the Train

tgottTitle: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens.
She’s even started to feel like she knows them. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.
Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.
Now they’ll see; she’s so much more than just the girl on the train…

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: This has been on my to read pile for a while, so long, in fact, that my SO got to it first. With the recent release of the film, i decided it was time (though i didn’t, and still don’t, have any plans to see the film–i’ve heard it’s terrible).

It’s a gripping book that definitely kept me reading. The chapters were quite short and often had a teasing or slightly revelatory end to them which made starting the next so easy. The plot–the mystery–is established well with plenty of scope and lots of avenues to consider. Although the draw for this book might be the plot, i felt it was more the string tying the characters together, because it was the characters who stand out.

As seems to be the theme with popular thrillers these days, none of the characters are exactly likeable. Mostly, though, i’m sick of readers moaning about not liking characters. To me, readers who just outright dislike all these characters aren’t looking deep enough. Yes, they are all extremely flawed, but they all have their own motivations, vices and shortcomings. They’re all complex individuals, and we get to see them trying to live and be better people, but we also see them failing at their worst moments. That’s more real and interesting to me than likeable but only two dimensional characters.

Rachel, our main character, i mostly didn’t like because she comes across as very weak, needy and desperate. She’s also an alcoholic who i preferred much more when she was sober and talking honestly about her issues. I’m glad the road wasn’t easy for her in this regard, though, because that would have been unbelievable. As much as i wanted her to get sober, i wouldn’t have bought it if she hadn’t fallen off the waggon and fucked up a few times.

Megan, our missing girl, i neither liked nor disliked. I felt like she wasn’t getting the chance to be who she wanted to be, and that maybe that person could be someone i’d like. Anna i very much disliked, i think mostly because there was nothing about her i could relate to, but a few of her actions later in the book more than redeem her in my eyes. Cathy was nice, but a bit too nice–i dislike too nice. And the men, well. I found them less fleshed out, less complex, less… just less.

The plot was simple enough, and the narrative devices standard and formulaic. The narrators were unreliable, but only in ways the author wants them to be. Missing, misleading and vague information is just as telling as what is clearly presented and discussed. If you know what to look for, this book holds no surprises. If you’re encouraged to consider X, instead take a closer look at Y. I had my suspicions by chapter four, my bet placed on the ending by halfway through, and every new revelation from there just made me more confident i was right. I half hoped i wasn’t, though, because i like being surprised!

Overall this was an okay book. What it did it did well, but it played it too safe, stuck to tricks and tactics so well-used they are easy to spot if you know to look for them. But it kept me turning pages, kept me hoping there’d be something i’d missed, something i’d not considered. When there wasn’t, i couldn’t give it more than a solidly average three stars.


Lovers’ Lies

loversliesTitle: Lovers’ Lies

Author: Various

Summary: This book is designed expressly for romantic cynics and cynical romantics. Be careful who catches you reading it – your intentions might be misinterpreted.

Join us as we wallow in the mny facets of relationships. Explore role-play gone wrong, goldfish that eat loneliness, and a very literal leap into the unknown.

Old love, cold love, true love, new love, dead love, we’re through love – making babies and making whoopee, disappointment and contentment, playing at home, playing away or just playing’ missed chances and new romances: everything from first conversation to last breath, strange journeys and stranger destinations.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: First of all, now i’ve just copy-typed that summary, can i just say how awful it is? Just… listing things. Very unimaginative and un-engaging. This is a book of short stories from the Liars’ League, all written around the theme of love. I first came across the Liars’ League when i read their book Weird Lies. I enjoyed it so much i wanted to try more, and bought this one.

Just like with Weird Lies, each story was short enough to enjoy in any snippet of time i could grasp, though a large chunk of them were also read over a longer train journey. I love short stories, and Liars’ League really does have some of the best. They’re self contained, have clear objectives and are easy to get into. This book contained 22 stories over 144 pages, and i enjoyed every single one. Some i loved more than others, of course.

‘Dara’ was about the love of a landlady for her suspicious tenant, as told through the eyes of the cleaner.

‘Under the Influence’ was about a drunken call from a husband while his wife does an online grocery shop. It’s not a happy call, and you feel for both characters… until the end, which is perfection.

‘Mrs Murdoch and Mr Smith’ is about two elderly people who meet for tea and cake, and though i would have taken the story in a more unexpected direction, i think it tells a story of companionship that very rarely gets acknowledged, and i loved that.

‘Monsieur Fromage’ is about a woman desperately seeking the perfect cheese to prove her love. She finds the cheese, but also something else.

‘Games I’ve Played and the People I’ve Played Them With’ is… very moving, actually. It’s about fun, games and finding joy in life with the ones you love, for as long as you can.

‘Speaking in Tongues’ is about love and language and connecting with someone on one level, but perhaps not on another.

‘The Painter and the Physicist’ is about a love between art and science, and how much they can share each other.

I find these short stories fascinating and inspirational. There is an art to the short story, and the Liars’ League have a knack for recognising the best. It makes me want to get writing my own. I will definitely be reading more Liars’ League books in the future.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: Water on the cover.

Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

ablutionsTitle: Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

Author: Patrick deWitt

Summary: A brilliant portrait of addiction and its consequences, featuring a watchful, whiskey-loving barman, sociopathic clientele – daring, funny and surprisingly tender.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4.5/5

Review: Discuss how much you enjoyed the book you recently finished reading. It so quickly immerses you into the story by making you a part of the story. With its second person narrative executed perfectly, the short chapters that manage to get you reading more than you intend to and the simple language used to efficiently yet evocatively describe these people and their surroundings. You sum up your review in its first paragraph and wonder if you should bother continuing.

Yeah, i was hooked on this book within the first few pages. A couple of years ago i read deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers on a recommendation from a friend and loved it. Ablutions has been on my to-read list ever since. Last weekend i found it a library book sale for 0.25p. Needless to say, i snapped it up and started reading it almost immediately. Possibly the best 0.25p i’ve ever spent.

Set in a bar in Los Angeles, the book explores alcoholism, drug addition and self-abuse in general. At no point does it romanticise these things–trust me. In fact it goes out of its way to specifically to show them as debasing, depraving and life-ruining.

I don’t know, i really did sum it up in that first paragraph. About half of the short sections start with “Discuss [something]” and, as the title suggests, the entire book reads like notes on people and incidents in the narrators life, and with the second person it’s as if he is writing notes to himself. Or, as if the reader has written notes to themselves. Second person narration is so hard to do well, but deWitt nails it in this book. The narrator, and every character described in the book, is hateful, selfish and self-destructive; none of them are likable, but the second person narrative had me rooting for the protagonist hard by the end, even as he steal and lies and causes harm.

The nature of the note-taking-like storytelling utilises a very simple writing style, lots of “you do [this]” and “you say [that]” etc, but it is its simplicity and clarity that so easily–so casually–creates this vivid world and characters. I’m not a fan of over-description, so of course i favour this style, but it really adds to this novel and its style overall. The simplistic writing offers as much insight into the narrator as any description of himself he may offer, and i often found myself consciously recognising the minimalistic writing style for that reason.

Again, in fitting with the “notes for a novel” title, a lot of the book reads like a character study of all the people the narrator encounters, and i found that fascinating. Getting to know characters and forming opinions on them is something i love about books, and this one manages it perfectly. I hate and/or pity everyone in the book, but they are also so obviously human and vulnerable and have something that could be likable about them–they’re real.

Humour is also a huge part of this novel. I laughed a lot, and wanted to tweet quotes every time i picked up the book. A lot of the humour is crude and gross, but that personally doesn’t offend me or put me off at all. I love it when amusement comes with a side of disgusted face-pulling; life isn’t all free shots and parties, sometimes it’s blueberries-and-blood shitting yourself.

Patrick deWitt’s writing style has so much of what i love. He is fast becoming one of my very favourite authors, and i eagerly await the release of his next novel in September.

I’m using this book to knock off the free space in my Bookish Bingo!

Gone Girl

Title: Gone Girl

Author: Gillian Flynn

Summary: Who are you?
What have we done to each other?

These are the questions Nick Dunne finds himself asking on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they weren’t made by him. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone.

So what did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: WARNING: This review contains huge, massive, mega spoilers for Gone Girl. The entire thing. So, read on at your own risk. /WARNING

I ummed and ahhed over reading this for quite a while. I had heard both good and bad things and, along with my general habit of avoiding something if it’s too popular, i held off for a long time. When the film trailer was released, i watched it to see if it was a film i would want to watch. It was, and being a book > film kind of person, that decided it for me. I bought the book next time i saw it in a charity shop.

It was easy to read, and i enjoyed it a lot more than i worried i might. That i knew there was a twist helped. The story is told in chapters alternating between present-day husband and historical diary entries wife. For the first half of the book i didn’t really like either of them, but i didn’t hate them either.

The wife, Amy, came across as a little weak, a little bit too naive. Nick, the husband, was a bit oblivious and was obviously hiding something. These obvious omissions were what drew my interest the most. I was driven crazy with casual lines like:

It was my fifth lie to the police. I was just getting started.

All i wanted was to know what the hell had happened and what the unexpected twist would be. Because Nick being the murderer everything indicated he was was clearly not going to be it.

My very early theory had been that Nick and Amy had faked it together, to claim the life insurance money and solve their financial problems. I was half right.

When the twist that Amy had faked her own death was revealed about halfway through the book, the main thing that had kept me reading was brought to an end. She even reveals how she did it pretty swiftly, and enough to satisfy my curiosity. What then became the driving force of the book was: Who is Amy, really? With the diary entries we had been reading revealed as fake, Amy was now almost a new character. I still didn’t like her.

Throughout the second half of the book, i liked both Amy and Nick less. I appreciated Nick’s simmering anger at Amy, but hadn’t forgiven him for his affair and disinterest. The more i learnt about the real Amy the more i disliked her, but i admired her intelligence and ability to hold a grudge and seek revenge. Really, I wanted them both to win and to lose.

In that respect, i thought the ending was great. These two, i disliked them both the perfect amount, so for them to end up stuck with each other seemed like a wonderful comeuppance for the pair of them.

I’ve heard the film has changed the ending, which i’m not so attached to that that idea bothers me. I just hope they haven’t gone with Amy getting caught. As much as i dislike her, i wanted her to get away with it. She doesn’t have to get a happy ending, but her getting caught would be dull, as far as i’m concerned.

I just love more ambiguous open endings–endings the reader can decide the details on, decide where the story ultimately goes. And the idea that Amy and Nick spend the rest of their lives together, playing mind games and one-upping each other all the way, is the best kind of ending.

Rough Music

rmTitle: Rough Music

Author: Patrick Gale

Summary: Julian as a small boy is taken on the perfect Cornish holiday. With the arrival of glamourous American relations emotions run high and events spiral out of control. Though he has been brought up in the forbidding shadow of the prison his father runs, though his parents are neither as normal nor as happy as he supposes, Julian’s world view is the sunny selfish, accepting one of boyhood. It is only when he becomes a man – seemingly at ease with love, with his sexuality, with his ghosts – that the traumatic effects of that distant summer rise up to challenge his defiant assertion that he is happy and always has been.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This was my second Patrick Gale book, and while i had nothing bad to say about the first one i read, Notes From an Exhibition, it just wasn’t my kind of book, either. The same can be said for Rough Music, but for some reason, i loved this one. I couldn’t put this book down. I had to keep reading.

I think the thing i don’t like about Gale’s books is that they are character driven. There is no main plot or storyline, per se, but an exploration of the characters and their lives. I’m sure others would argue that the characters’ lives is the storyline, but i see it more as a series of events. Semantics, but there is a difference. Regardless, Gale is brilliant at what he does. He shaped these vivid and flawed and realistic characters, he made me sympathise and despise all of them in turn. Although i dislike the lack of a plot, characters can make or break a book for me. I don’t have to like them, but they have to be well-written, and these ones are.

Set in two time lines, simultaneously told, the book details the events of the same family on holiday to the same cottage in Cornwall years apart. It is the events that happen at the cottage and among the members of the family that make up the story. What i do like about Gale’s story telling is the hints and information we are given, and slow reveal of things. We know something happened on the first holiday, and we can take educated guesses as to what, but there are more questions to be asked, more things the reader wants to know, that don’t get revealed until the last few chapters. The second present-day holiday includes both new, dramatic events and a reverberation of the events of the previous holiday. An interesting twist in this is that the mother of the family, who was a main party in the events of the first holiday is, at the time of the second holiday, now suffering with early onset Alzheimer’s. How much does she or does she not remember?

I was gripped, basically. I knew the vague plot, and the major points of what had happened on the first holiday, while the drama that would be surrounding the second holiday is revealed very early on. These weren’t the things that made the story gripping. It was the details, the characters and their motivations. The story is told from three alternate points of view: the mother, the father and the son. What i felt was lacking most of the way through was the point of view of the other child–i wanted to know more about her, her thoughts and motivations. But of course this was the point. To include hers would have given too much away, and the revelations saved for the very end of the book were mostly hers.

I’m still shocked at how much i really enjoyed this book. It’s still just not my kind of book, but there is also something in it i love, and envy in writing. Realistic characters, well-told. I need more books that have that and more of an external plot pulling the characters along. I’m undecided if i will read any more books by Gale. I think i like the idea of having him as a ‘safe’ back-up author that i can turn to if i need an easy not-my-usual read, but i also fear, after reading reviews for his other books, that i’ve already read the best two.

Care of Wooden Floors

13131066Title: Care of Wooden Floors

Author: Will Wiles

Summary: Oskar is a minimalist composer best known for his piece Variations on Tram Timetables. He lives with his wife and two cats in an unnamed Eastern European city. But this book isn’t really about Oskar. Oskar is in Los Angeles, having his marriage dismanteled by lawers. Meanwhile, he has entrusted an old friend to take care of his perfect, beautiful apartment.

Despite Oskar leaving extensive notes on how to keep his flat in pristine condition, a tiny oversight initiates a chain of farcical, and even fatal, disasters. Care of Wooden Floors is about loneliness, friendship and the quest for, and struggle against, perfection. And it is, a little, about how to take care of wooden floors.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2/5

Review: I bought this book on a whim from a bookshop. There were two books i actually wanted, but with a three-for-two offer on, i was adamant i would get another for free, and this was it. So, at least i can be glad i didn’t pay for it.

Fair disclosure: I didn’t finish this book. It left me in a reading rut for weeks, because i didn’t want to pick it up and carry on reading, so i didn’t read anything. Eventually i put it aside and started reading something else. I meant to get back to this book, but even now, months later… i don’t want to.

It’s a real shame, because there was so much about this book i did like. The writing, most of all, is wonderful, witty and more than a little quotable…

Aha, they would think, this is a man who knows how to use the tin opener.

There is a moment between sleeping and waking where one is free. Consciousness has returned, but awareness has yet to rip away the thin screen between the waker and his surroundings, his reality.

Neglect had a kind of gentleness to it that plucked at the sentimental. Time had passed here, undisturbed; I passed time there, undisturbed.

Regretful, after-the-event wisdom; the Germans must have a word for it. If they didn’t have such a word, they should. We rely on them for things like that.

Wiles has a wonderful way with words. I laughed often and also caught myself introspecting.

It is a shame, then, that Wiles doesn’t have a way with plot. For the time i was reading, not a lot actually happened. An unnamed narrator arrives at Oskar’s flat for an undetermined amount of time. He spends (too much) time describing the flat (in less-than-exciting detail; i hate useless over-description), and pondering what he will do. Then promptly does none of it. He gets drunk. A lot. And that’s about it.

I stopped reading during the events of a morning after a particularly heavy night of drinking, as the narrator explored Oskar’s flat to discern the damage he had wrought. Potentially, this was the point things got interesting, but i was already too bored by then.

The trouble was there was nothing driving the story. There was nothing driving me to pick the book up and keep reading. As well-written as it may have been, i found it had no substance.

A huge issue was my lack of connection (and actually, frustration with) the narrator. I found him self-centred and lazy and just, not a very good person. Not someone i could sympathise with at all. In all honesty, i preferred Oskar, the overly fastidious flat owner, absent as he was the entire time.

I feel sad having to give this book such a low rating, because there was so much that should have been so much better. But if i can’t even finish it, what use is it? Instead, i will have to imagine Oskar’s reaction when he returned home…

Canal Dreams

candreTitle: Canal Dreams

Author: Iain Banks

Summary: Hisako Onoda, world famous cellist, refuses to fly. And so she travels to Europe as a passenger on a tanker bound through the Panama Canal. By the end of her journey she had ignited one soldier with an oxy-acetylene torch, stabbed another through the chest with the spike of her cello, clobbered a guard with the butt of a rifle and raked terrorists with machine-gun fire before frazzling the survivors in an oil-covered sea.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: Having really enjoyed other books by Banks, and loving the sound of that summary, i was very surprised by how much i didn’t like this book.

It was slow. The story flits between Hisako’s life; childhood, adolescence and adulthood, and her present day; stuck on a ship in the Panama Canal during a war-like international crisis. My interest in both halves of the book varied wildly, both having some really interesting and really, really dull parts.

The first half of the book felt like a history lesson. Hisako’s history of how she became a cello player, and the history of Panama Canal. These weren’t necessarily uninteresting, but they weren’t exactly the thrilling, entertaining read i was hoping for.

The second half of the book is, to put it plainly, a rape-revenge. And, to put it honestly, not the best one. Was it satisfying to read about Hisako stalking down these men and murdering them without a second thought? Yes. Was it well written? Did it flow well, keep me entertained and want to keep reading? Unfortunately, no.

The synopsis covers the best bits, but i’d love to see the same synopsis on the back of a Christopher Brookmyre book. He’d write the same action, only with less rape and more entertainment.

The third aspect of the book, as the title might suggest, was Hisako’s dreams. And they were the most distracting for me. They could go on for pages, connect to nothing and i just found them boring.

Good elements, unfortunately poorly crafted. I think maybe he was trying too hard to get something more meaningful than there was from this story. The Wasp Factory, this is not.

Communion Town

Communion TownTitle: Communion Town

Author: Sam Thompson

Summary: On crowded streets, in the town squares and half-empty tower blocks, the lonely and lost try to make a connection. A weary gumshoe pounds the reeking sidewalks, seeking someone he knows he will never find. Violence loiters in blind alleys, eager to embrace the unsuspecting and the reckless. Lovers are doomed to follow treacherous paths that were laid long before they first met.
This city is no ordinary place. Here, the underworld has surfaced; dreams melt into reality and memories are imagined before they are lived. Ghosts and monsters, refugees and travellers – the voices of Communion Town clamour to tell the stories of the city, stories that must be heard to be believed.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2/5

Review: I found this really hard to read, and the most frustrating thing is i can’t articulate why.

A series of short and seemingly unrelated short stories, all set in the same fictional town. I liked that idea. I expected there to be a little, maybe even insignificant, overlap between the stories (passing characters in the street or things mentioned in passing in one story being the crux of another). It doesn’t happen like that.

I will say i really enjoyed the first story. It intrigued me. I hoped things mentioned in that story would be hinted at or expanded upon in others. Nothing was.

Each story is so different. Past tense, present tense; first person, third person; private investigator noir, Sherlockian detective. There is no flow, from one story to the next, nothing–nothing–binds them except for the fact they are set in the same town. I don’t know, maybe that’s the point, but i just found it a struggle to come out of one story and launch into another that was completely different.

I think the author is trying too hard. That’s what i came away from this with. The quote on the front of the book says: “…here is a new writer working out what he can do and realising he can do anything.” I would say it’s more a writer who thinks he can do anything, and this is his attempt to show off.

Everything seems steeped in meaning as well. Everything is significant, and important, and meaningful. And that just made reading such a chore. There are hints at things and no explanation, which is just a huge tease. Each story seems more like a glimpse into a more full, rounded story that would be more interesting and satisfying, but instead it gets cut short and left hanging.

Maybe the author has a short attention span, or an inability to actually finish a novel, so he threw together all his attempts at starting one and called it a collection of short stories.